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Authors: C. J. Valles,Alessa James

From a Dream: Darkly Dreaming Part I

BOOK: From a Dream: Darkly Dreaming Part I
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From a Dream

Darkly Dreaming Part I

 

Electronic edition

 

Copyright © 2015 by C. J. Valles (writing as Alessa James)

www.cjvalles.com

www.facebook.com/cj.valles.3

Follow C. J. on Twitter @CJValles_4ever

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work.

 

This is Part I of III of
The Darkly Dreaming Series
.

 

From a Dream

Darkly Dreaming Part I

Love Me Darkly

Darkly Dreaming Part II

Dreaming Ever After

Darkly Dreaming Part III

 

Prologue

 

 

S
hrouded in darkness, the carriage rattled along the rocky cliff side. Outside, I knew dawn was coming—I could almost feel it—but I didn’t dare look. I just continued to hold him in my arms as the last drops of adrenaline coursed through my veins. His skin was ice cold against mine, like he had already died.

When his eyes opened, I knew for certain that I loved him with every particle of my being. But I had no memory of his name or why I was even here, dressed in a long, flowing, filmy fire-red dress—strange clothing from another age. I only knew there was no time left. This was the end. My heart ached at the certainty of it.

He reached up and touched my cheek when the carriage stopped, and we stumbled outside, reaching the cliff’s edge just as a sliver of sun emerged on the horizon. The first ray of light shimmered across the ocean’s surface, and he fell to his knees. I dropped down with him, holding him fiercely.

His slate-gray eyes burned into mine, and the tears streaking down my cheeks came faster now, blurring my vision as the pale pinks and oranges of dawn began to scorch us. He leaned forward, his lips touching mine so softly that it could have been my imagination.

“Don’t leave me,” I whispered.

He smiled.

“I’m yours. Forever.”

The sunlight spread over us, and I reached out one last time to touch his cold cheek. Then I watched as he turned to dust beneath my fingers.

 

My eyes snapped open. I was curled into a tight ball beneath the covers of my new bed, and when I reached up to touch my cheek, I was surprised to find the skin wet with tears. The details of my dream were already seeping away, leaving me with a vague, but crushing sense of loss. I could remember only the stranger’s achingly beautiful eyes.

I clicked on the lamp, got out of bed, and went to the mirror hanging on the closet door. My skin was blotchy from crying. The oval face in the reflection was framed by long, deep-red hair with only the slightest hint of highlights from endless summers in Southern California. In stark contrast, my skin was a pale ivory beneath the redness from crying. I touched my lips. My mouth, like my mom’s, was small, but heart-shaped. The wide green eyes—bright from tears—were hers, too.

I looked away from the mirror, ashamed to be crying about some stranger from a dream.

Chapter 1: Invisible

 

 

F
all again, the beginning of another school year. Nearly a thousand miles from home.

Over the summer, just a few months shy of my senior year of high school, we had moved here to Oregon, leaving behind a lifetime of Southern California’s preternaturally temperate weather. My dad, Aaron—or Professor Casey to his students—had just accepted a position at a university about a hundred miles south of Portland.

A fresh start, he had said. But escape was a more appropriate explanation for our departure. My mom’s death two years ago wasn’t something we talked about. It was easier that way to pretend nothing was wrong.

Until the end of my junior year, home had been Irvine, a suburb just outside of Laguna Beach, my favorite place—not because it was where celebrities went on vacation, but because it was where I had spent most of my summers as a kid. Long before I had been born, Laguna had become an enclave of the rich and famous. Ferraris on Coast Highway were common. Reality TV shows. Tourists. Skimpy swimwear. And even though I had lived in Southern California all my life, it was never a place where I felt like I truly belonged. My long, dramatically red hair and pale skin were better suited to some dreary, cold climate. Ireland maybe.

So, after seventeen years of feeling like a permanent outsider in Southern California, I had found myself filled with an absurd sense of relief at my dad’s news that he had taken a job in the Pacific Northwest. The bright blue skies and the aquamarine waters of summers spent in Laguna only reminded me of what I could never have back. The few things I still cared about had traveled with me to Oregon—my dad and Darcy, my three-year-old German shepherd.

Our new next-door neighbor, Mrs. Hendrix, who looked close to a hundred years old and lived alone with a midnight-black miniature poodle named Angel, had adopted us. Or we had adopted her. I wasn’t sure which. But within the first month in our new house, she had become a regular addition to our Friday dinners. And without fail, she would bring slightly stale chocolate chip cookies or some type of candy that would stubbornly stick to the roof of my mouth. She was already like a grandmother to me.

At the start of the fall semester at Winters Union High School, I quickly discovered I had developed a disconcerting new superpower among my peers: total invisibility. But I should have expected it. Even before moving, I had always had an uncanny knack for going unnoticed. Servers forgot to take my order in restaurants. Teachers barely noticed me in class. Guys in my classes didn’t even seem to see me. Even automatic doors took an extra second to register my presence. And in gym class, I was always the last one picked for team sports. Secretly, though I didn’t mind being on my own.

But in the town of Winters, I barely seemed to exist at all.

 

***

 

“Aven?”

I looked up in surprise and then instantly wanted to melt into the floor. But I didn’t. Instead, I could feel all the eyes in my AP U.S. History class turn in my direction. I had been watching the rain tap gently on the windowpane when Mr. Anderson called my name. It must have been for the second time because he was already looking at me expectantly, his glasses perched halfway down the bridge of his nose. I had no idea what he had asked.

All I could think was:
Why does it have to be today that he finally notices me?
His gaze shifted impatiently, and he shook his head before turning to the rest of my classmates. I could feel a blush rising in my cheeks.

“I’m sorry. What was the question?” I asked weakly.

I
hated
being caught off guard.

“Can anyone help Ms. Casey, who obviously had better things to do last night than read the first section of chapter four?”

Snickering bubbled up from behind me, and without looking I knew where it was coming from. But it would have been worse to acknowledge it, so I didn’t.


Yes
, Doug,” Mr. Anderson sighed, pointing several rows over.

Mr. Anderson’s voice bordered somewhere near disappointment as he called on Doug Cho for the hundredth time since I had started at Winters. I glanced at my classmate, who had the annoying habit of scrunching up his nose and squinting when he knew he had the answer.

“In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on the first American overland journey to the Pacific coast and back, following the Louisiana Purchase,” Doug recited.

I was pretty sure everyone in U.S. history—the class, at least—couldn’t stand Doug. And it was obvious that he loved being the only one with the answer. Half the time I didn’t raise my hand just because I didn’t want to be lumped into the same category as Doug: know-it-all suck-up. I didn’t care either way about Doug, but I was irritated since I
had
done the reading and I had known the answer. Still, ever since the first test of the year, I tried whenever possible to avoid drawing attention to myself. Setting the curve hadn’t won me many fans, and I had decided to let Doug go ahead and enjoy his illusion of intellectual superiority. Invisibility was preferable to hostility from the natives.

When the bell rang and everyone’s books began snapping shut, Mr. Anderson called out reminding us to read the second section of chapter four and to start thinking about topics for the term papers. As I rose to leave, I watched Allison Monroe, Natasha Sacks, and Shelly Alton moving toward the door. I knew their names because everyone in school knew who they were, particularly Allison. I also knew they were the ones who had sneered earlier at my expense. After shoving my binder and textbook into my bag, I walked down the aisle and tried to slip by Mr. Anderson unnoticed. Without looking up, he called my name. I cringed, and my face flushed again. I hated that my embarrassment was immediately broadcast by the color of my cheeks.

“Aven? May I speak with you for a moment?” he asked, pausing to take off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.

I nodded, like I had a choice.

“I don’t understand. Your in-class essay on the Revolutionary War was excellent, your scores are among the highest in class, and yet you continue to be out
there
somewhere during our discussions. Would you mind filling me in?”

I looked down; I sincerely hoped the question was a rhetorical one.

“Is there something wrong at home?” he prodded.

His tone was sympathetic, which made it worse.

“Um, no.”

Real eloquent, Aven
, I thought, mentally smacking my forehead. I could tell by the way he was looking at me that this wasn’t the response he had been seeking.

“Really, nothing’s wrong,” I added.

There really was nothing
wrong
, at least not in any way I wanted to share with my History teacher. What was I going to tell him? That my dad hadn’t been the same since my mom died and my social circle consisted of a German Shepherd, an elderly neighbor, and Sean Murray? Or better yet, that the constant rainfall and soothing greenness of this place seemed to have an entrancing, almost narcotic, effect on my ability to concentrate?

“All right,” he sighed with a tired smile. “Keep up the good work, but try to be more, um, present during class. Participation makes up ten percent of the grade. Okay?”

I nodded and then retreated hastily toward the door before freezing in place when I noticed a dark shadow—more like a blur—at the edge of my vision. By the time I turned to catch sight of it, the shadow had evaporated, but a creepy feeling lingered over me as I stepped into the hall.

The impenetrable grayness that had marked fall’s arrival in Winters was seriously affecting my ability to think rationally. It was the only explanation. That, and the chronic insomnia that had gripped me since the shift in weather. Nobody here was watching me. In fact, virtually no one at this school even knew I existed. I truly could have been invisible. The universe confirmed this as I walked to my locker. The crowd of students parted just enough for me to pass, the buzz of laughter and conversations making me feel even more invisible. As I opened my locker, I smiled at the sound of Sean’s voice behind me.

“Did you fall asleep in class or something? ’Cause I know you did the reading.”

Sean was my only age- and species-appropriate friend in Winters. We had met a week after I moved to Winters at the chain bookstore where he was working to earn gas money. With nothing else to do over the summer, I had spent practically every waking moment there to escape the quiet of the house while my dad prepared for a semester at his new university. And lucky for me, Sean had taken it upon himself to adopt me much like our neighbor Mrs. Hendrix had. I wasn’t sure why, but I suspected it was because Sean was just the nicest person in Winters—and I was eternally grateful to him.

“Hello? Earth to Aven. Wake up. You’re zoning again.”

Sean was smirking and tapping his foot when I turned to face him. A goofy smile broke out across his face, and I studied him for a second. He was funny and good-looking in a harmless way, with shaggy brown hair and wide brown eyes. But the best thing about Sean was how easy he was to talk to—at least when he wasn’t sitting down in the middle of a conversation to piece together some song that he would later play very seriously on his acoustic guitar.

“Anderson was boring me to death,” I said casually.

The truth was that I liked my U.S. History class, but I didn’t feel like explaining the weird feeling I had been getting lately. Instead of grilling me, Sean linked his arm in mine as we walked toward the parking lot. He waved or called out as he passed people. Sighing, I leaned my head on his shoulder, knowing he wouldn’t take it the wrong way. I knew he didn’t think of me as anything other than a friend—because he never shut up about Allison … Yep, the same snotty bitch Allison from our History class.

Even
I
had to admit that from outside appearances Allison was perfect, with impeccably applied makeup and golden hair so flawlessly highlighted that it screamed expensive salon. She also had a tan that was distinctly impossible to maintain this far north of the equator—she was clearly an avid supporter of the tanning salons that seemed to be on every block in Oregon. Plus, she always came to school dressed straight out of a fashion magazine, not that I would have known what the latest styles were if she hadn’t been wearing them. My dad called my taste understated and classic like my mom’s, but seeing as he never paid much attention to his own appearance, I didn’t take much comfort there.

Not surprisingly, Sean wasn’t alone in his appreciation of Allison Monroe’s physical attributes. Almost every guy in school worshipped her. And a part of me envied her. Her life looked easy. Fun.
Normal
. In comparison, mine had a tendency to look a little weird and lonely. But the real explanation for my invisibility, the one I didn’t like to think about too much, was that I chose it. I had always been more than a little okay on my own—until anyone happened to mention how strange it was to be alone more often than not. But ever since I was a little kid, I had felt like I was on the outside looking in, and even before we moved, I had gravitated toward solitary activities.

On days when Sean wasn’t around, I almost always went to the stairs at the back of the school to read a book during lunch. Being around one person I liked was totally different than facing a cafeteria full of strangers. Dealing with that many people at once had always given me a monster headache—like I was going to explode if I didn’t get some alone time.

Today, though, Sean and I were heading off campus for lunch. The tradeoff to our trip to Ford’s, the only decent burger place in town, was that I was required to listen to Sean pine over Allison. He didn’t do this with his friends Matt and Jeff, mostly because they weren’t exactly sympathetic. Granted, Matt and Jeff had been witnesses to Sean’s crush since middle school.

But I didn’t mind providing a shoulder to lean on. And besides, Sean was obviously too love-struck to notice that Allison and her friends treated me like an untouchable, so I couldn’t hold his crush against him. The fact that he liked her only proved that he was a guy and that his vision was intact.

After sliding into the passenger seat of his beat-up Civic, I cranked up the heat all the way. Sean had already turned on the radio and was very enthusiastically singing along to a Pink Floyd song on the classic rock station. When I laughed, he looked over at me, his expression wounded.


What
? Floyd is classic.”

I punched him playfully on the shoulder. My dad played Pink Floyd all the time. I loved
Dark Side of the Moon
even if it was, as my dad always said, decades before my time.

“I was simply admiring your enthusiasm.”

Given a genetic deficiency that made me capable of shattering glass with my singing, I declined to join him.

“What’ll it be today?” Sean asked, doing a dance with his eyebrows. “Are we going with the cheeseburger and milkshake, burger and fries, fries and a milkshake, onion rings and fries? Huh? Huh?”

“The usual.”

Sean smirked as he pulled into the parking lot. My “usual” included things he would forget—like no onions, extra pickles, lettuce and tomato, extra cheese and no meat. I called it a meatless cheeseburger; he called it a glorified grilled cheese. I handed him some money, relieved it was his turn to get the food. We almost never ate inside since Ford’s was packed during lunchtime. To avoid the crowds, we either sat in Sean’s car—or, on the occasional dry day, we went to a vacant building a couple of streets from school that offered a nice overhang and bench.

BOOK: From a Dream: Darkly Dreaming Part I
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